MEDAL winning swimmer Chris Cook urged students to take the plunge as they set their sights on bright futures.

The former Team GB and Commonwealth gold medallist told students at Wyvern Academy, Darlington, to ‘follow their hearts’ as they think about further education and careers.

“Your chances improve if you follow your heart and do what you want to do,” said the 38-year-old, South Shields-born now living on Teesside.

The Sky ambassador presented a host of prizes to Year 7-10 students who had excelled at a variety of sports.

Mr Cook told an audience of staff, students and families attending the inaugural sports awards how he had lost his best friend over of his dedication to swimming.

His career also suffered a severe blow when, at 19, he was called up for the Team GB squad but an administrative error meant the offer was later withdrawn.

“I had showed the letter to everyone, got all my gear and had six weeks to prepare,” he recalled. “Then three weeks in I got a call from the admin office saying I never should have been on the list and could they have the kit back. I was so embarrassed that I dropped out of swimming for a while until my dad persuaded me to go back.

“I didn’t get into the GB team until I was 24. I was fourth in the World Championships and out of the medals but the thought of being on the winners’ podium drove me.

“Then at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, I was in a lane next to a 6ft7in Australian. It seemed that he had 23,000 people shouting for him and I had my mam.

“It had never happened before but I slipped coming out of the blocks and after the first length was lying seventh. I was already rehearsing my victim story until I realised what I was throwing away. I had to do my best. I won gold. If you follow your dreams magical things can happen.”

Headteacher Mo Wilkinson said: “I urge students all the time to reach for their dreams and here is a man who actually did it. This first ever sports awards shows the talent in our school and reflects the ethos that exists at Wyvern Academy.”

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